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There is a growing lineup of $150 active-noise canceling wireless earbuds available today and we've spent a couple of weeks with another contender that is worth your consideration. The time of paying Apple and others $250 or more for a great set of ANC earbuds is over.
While LG is no longer in the smartphone market, it continues to focus on releasing high quality headsets. I tested out a few pairs over the past couple of years, but the new LG Tone Free FP8 brings together the best from them so you get a wireless earbud with three mics on each earbud, ANC, UVnano bacteria-killing light, IPX4 water resistance, wireless charging, and long battery life.
Also: LG TONE Free FN7 review: Active noise cancellation, fast charging, and IPX4 water resistance
The retail package includes the two wireless earbuds, a charging case with an integrated battery (weighing in at just 39 grams), a short USB-A to USB-C cable, and small/medium/large silicone gel earbud tips. The carrying case supports Qi wireless charging. You can simply place the charging case on a Qi wireless charger or smartphone that supports reverse wireless charging.
The charging case is covered with black soft touch material that makes it easy to hold and keeps the case from sliding off a table. It is a small round puck 2.15 inches in diameter and just over an inch thick. It's one of the smallest earbud cases I've seen and easily fits into your pants, shirt, or coat pocket. The case does not have any level of water resistance.
Inside the case at the bottom of where each earbud rests in its formed compartment is a small UV light source for the UVnano bacteria-killing feature. When you are charging the earbud case, either wirelessly or with a USB-C cable, the UV-C light will activate and sanitize the speaker mesh at the end of each earbud in just five minutes. Given that we use wireless earbuds for hours on end each day, sanitizing them is a nice feature to have and something unique to LG.
The earbuds are identical in design with an outside touch pad, three microphones, the same charging terminals, and battery capacity. There is an inner mic, an outer mic, and then a voice mic that is located at the bottom of the stem. These three microphones are used to assist with noise reduction and echo cancellation. The upper mic detects external noise. The inner mic cancels out unwanted noise when the ANC function is turned on. The lower mic picks up and amplifies your vocals. Active noise cancellation is the popular feature today with all advanced earbuds and headsets so it is great to see LG add this functionality in such a compact size while retaining solid battery life.
The earbuds have a stem design, similar to the AirPods and many other modern earbuds. When looking at previous LG Tone Free earbuds, the stem is shorter on the FP8 and aligns perfectly with the opening canal of my outer ear. The earbuds are very light and I don't even realize when they are in and can wear them until the battery dies with perfect comfort and a secure fit.
Also: Amazfit PowerBuds Pro review: $150 ANC-enabled earbuds with unique health options
Three sizes of soft, hypoallergenic silicone ear gels are provided in the box for a comfortable fit. The LG TONE Free has automatic ear detection so your music pauses when you take them out. Your phone also connects automatically once you insert them in your ears. You can also use one earbud at a time, which results in being able to greatly extend battery life through a one ear usage pattern.
I've been annoyed by some recent earbuds with stem designs where you have to squeeze or grab the stem to control the audio experience. Thankfully, LG went with the outside portion of the stem being a touch-sensitive surface so you can simply tap one, two, or three times, as well as tap and hold, to control the functions. You can customize several of the functions in the LG Tone Free smartphone application as well.
I highly recommend you download and install the LG TONE Free application to your phone. With this app you can view the battery status of each earbud and the charging case, manage equalizer settings, toggle ambient sound and active noise cancellation, lock the touchpad, customize the touchpad settings, toggle notification settings, find your earbuds, and perform software updates. It's a very well designed application that significantly enhances the LG TONE Free FP8 experience.
The LG TONE Free application is available for both Android and iOS. I connected the earbuds to both platforms for testing and the functionality is the same no matter which smartphone OS you are using.
The outside touchpad on each earbud is used to control your media, phone, and wireless assistant (Google Assistant and Siri) experience. Single, double, and triple taps on each earbud can be customized to your preferences for music playback. Options include play/pause, voice command, volume up or down, previous or next track, and off. Receiving a call with a single tap, ending a call with two taps and a long press and hold for ambient sound/ANC toggle are not editable.
You can use each earbud independently too if you want to have one ear open as you work, exercise, or commute. Obviously, controls are a bit more limited with a single earbud inserted.
If you toggle on notification settings you can have text messages read to you through the headset. Three speech rates are available for reading these messages too. Specific app notifications can be toggled on and off in the settings.
Also: OnePlus Buds Pro review: An affordable ANC headset
Under the noise-canceling sound mode LG provides high and low options. There is clearly a difference in isolation between the two modes and it's great to see LG providing options for people that don't necessarily like a fully closed off world around them.
For safety, and other reasons, you may want to hear sounds around you and with the software you can setup and control ambient sound. The latest LG TONE Free app has two options in the Ambient Sound option. One is for listening mode and the other for conversation mode. With conversation mode, audio around you is amplified so if you are feeling a bit mischievous you may be able to listen in on nearby conversations.
There are five default equalizer settings; immersive, bass boost, natural, treble boost, and 3D sound stage. The 3D sound stage option is designed for watching movies or sports, but my classic rock also sounds good with this equalizer setting toggled on. When you tap an equalizer button in the app a pop-up will appear that describes the best genre for that selected default. There are also two spots for custom equalizer settings so you can customize the listening experience to your preferences.
A new option in the LG TONE Free app is a section called TONE Free LAB. Tap on this to toggle on or off Game mode and Whispering mode. Game mode is designed to reduce the latency of the earbuds during fast gameplay. With Whispering mode enabled you take out the right earbud, hold it near your mouth, and speak softly into the earbud. This mode is designed for phone calls in areas with lots of surrounding sounds, such as in a subway, where the left voice mic is disabled and all speaking is focused to pass through the right microphone.
If you lose one or both earbuds, you can have a very loud chirping sound play if your phone is within range of the lost earbud. You can specify to have the alert sound play on the left or right earbud.
My personal tests to see if a wireless earbud will stick around for longer than the review period is to put them in and perform yard work. My mower is loud with my gas blower being even louder and if a wireless headset can stay in place and block out most of the noise then it checks that box.
The next test is to go running with the earbuds in. If they can stay put in my ears for a 30 to 60-minute run then they pass that test too. Thankfully, the LG Tone Free FP8 passed both tests. The ANC wasn't as dominant as I experienced on a headset like the Sony WF-1000XM4, but they still blocked out the very loud mower and blower sounds while allowing me to enjoy podcasts and classic rock.
LG has partnered with Meridian in providing a customized equalizer and headphone spatial processing. Music sounds very good with these earbuds and is not muffled or distorted in any manner. Spoken words are crisp, I can hear instruments clearly, and sound is what I expect to hear when it is being played.
I also used the headset to accept and make phone calls. Callers said I sounded great on their end and on the headphones their voice was crystal clear.
The small touchpad on the earbuds was easy to tap and performed reliably. I had no problem with the single, double, and triple taps to control my listening experience.
The LG TONE Free FP8 checks every box for a pair of wireless earbuds and comes in at a reasonable $149.99 current price, MSRP of $179.99. I've already installed one update for the headset since I've been testing them too so LG is actively working to ensure the headset continues to perform well.